Poetry: Catching by Arah Ko
Alight with a sense of intergenerational connection, Arah Ko’s “Catching” enters its speaker’s childhood and expands into a pursuit of a family history—“a long line of flame-mongers”—and resistances. Moving the reader through sharply woven couplets that blend past and present, the poem leads us to beauty.
I’m eight with a matchbox in my pocket.
I only know a few things: squirrels
don’t hibernate in Michigan; librarians
don’t vote for Bush. Snow melts
on my lashes, my hand-me-down jacket,
but I linger by the chain link, wise enough
to anticipate another round of standardized
tests and too small to avoid them.
I thumb one matchstick, pinches of sulfur.
Someone said No Child Left Behind. A teacher
is coming to get me. I was born into a long
line of flame-mongers: my father spinning
cans of coals over a bone-dry field, his
father feeding flames with Japanese books,
photographs of his dead mother. They find me
too late, tinder already buried beneath a tree,
no evidence in my pockets, backpack, locker.
I asked my father why he did it, his regret
palpable after the crop caught ablaze. He said
I don’t know or I was a fool and once, face lit
by a tame campfire, you should have seen it—
when the sparks flew fast they were so beautiful.